HARRISON, N.Y. – Most kids are not out advocating for such causes as organ donation, but that is not the case with transplant recipient and Chappaqua 10-year-old Acacia Puleo, who delivered a rousing speech in Harrison that left some in tears.
“She has more poise than some 21-year-olds,” New York State Assemblyman Bob Castelli (R) said after hearing her speech.
She spoke at an event held in honor of two-term Harrison Town Clerk and 2011 Citizen of the Year Joseph Acocella. He died Aug. 8, 2011, at age 30 from medical complications while awaiting a second kidney transplant. Acocella, the youngest New York State school board member and town clerk, was born with lumbar sacral agenesis. His legs were amputated at the age of 3, he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, and he underwent his first kidney transplant while in high school.
Although the national average to sign on as registered organ donors is 43 percent, the number of registrants in New York is 19 percent, which leaves many waiting five to eight years for a kidney transplant, said Acocella’s sister, Laura Acocella-McCorry. Her family has joined with the New York Organ Donor Network to work to increase the number of organ donors in the state, which is currently ranked as the third-lowest in the nation.
From birth, Acacia needed a new liver, intestine and pancreas. Her mother, Hailey, took her to Pittsburgh because there are more organ donors in Pennsylvania than New York. Her husband and other children stayed home.
Acacia received the necessary organs when she was 15 months old. She is now headed into fifth grade, even though doctors in Pittsburgh had told her mother that she had only one week to live.
The bubbly 10-year-old started her speech with lyrics from “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan, which her parents said told her story.
“You spend all your time waiting for that second chance / For the break that will make it OK / In the arms of the angel, may you find some comfort there,” she said. After telling the heart-wrenching story of her first few months, Acacia said she received “the gift of life” from her angel that allowed her “doctors to fix her broken parts.”
“We found comfort in the arms of that angel,” she said. “This was a gift from my angel. It’s also a gift from a family suffering a loss. I’m so very lucky that they chose to donate organs.”
Gymnastics and even math homework, which she said she hated to a burst of laughter from the crowd, would not be possible without such “amazing and extraordinary gifts.”
“I hope that many of you have been involved in the decision to donate,” said Acacia. “I want to thank you and hopefully show you how amazing this gift can be. It’s the gift of a second chance. Every night, when we go to bed, we thank God for my angel parts and remember how blessed we are. One person could save eight lives. Be that person – please sign up to be an organ donor.”
The Seven Bridges student, who also delivered a speech on organ donation at a packed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the fall, received rave reviews.
“I’m so proud of her – not at all surprised she pulled it off without a hitch,” said her mother. “That takes a lot.” She is hopeful that the event will inspire those not currently registered for organ donation to do so.
Stefan Segadlo, a New York Organ Donor Network public and professional education specialist, described Acacia as sensational.
“What a great representative for the cause. She’s what you think about – a true champion of the nation,” he said. “Let’s face it: This is a subject that people don’t necessarily want to stop and think about. But when they see how close to home it is, to someone like her, a child that received three organs, that just makes all the difference.”
You can sign up to be an organ donor when you renew your driver’s license or register to vote, or through the New York Department of Health.